Worldwide, our collective research and policy institutions, including the American Society of Animal Science (ASAS), are calling for more systems-based research and analysis of society's most pressing and complex problems. However, the use of systems analysis within animal science remains limited and researchers may not have the tools to answer this call. This review thus introduces important concepts in systems thinking methodology, such as policy resistance, feedback processes, and dynamic complexity. An overall rationale for systems thinking and analysis is presented, along with examples of the application of these concepts in current animal science research. In order to contrast systems approaches to more frequently employed event-oriented research frameworks, both frameworks are then applied to the ASAS' identified "Grand Challenge" problem of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in order to compare these two kinds of analyses. Systems thinking stresses the importance of underlying system structures that lead to persistent problem behaviors vs a focus on unidirectional cause-and-effect relationships. A potential systems framework for animal production decisions to use antimicrobials is shown that more explicitly accounts for AMR in a way that can lead to different animal production decisions than the event-oriented framework. Acknowledging and accounting for fundamental system structures that can explain persistent AMR will lead to different potential solutions to this problem than would be suggested from more linear approaches. The challenges and benefits of incorporating systems methods into animal science research are then discussed.
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